This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 1145 words.
The story that Inge related to me made me angry and desperately sad at the same time. At least when it was over, I was able to get her to eat something, and to drink some warm milk. But when she went back to bed that night, I couldn’t sleep, and sat for most of the night at the table, writing a report.
She told me that at first, the abuse had been verbal. Constantly being told she would never be good enough. Coaches screaming at her when she was still just a child, telling her she was too fat, and was eating too much. When she cried, they sat her facing the corner, leaving her there until she apologised. It wasn’t long before the physical abuse began. Slaps, pushes, being left in uncomfortable positions for long periods, and having her wrists twisted, or hair pulled. And it wasn’t the Russians doing this, but the East German coaches, and the chaperones that were supposed to be caring for her.
Eventually, lack of good food, nights without sleep, and constant humiliation broke her spirit. When they told Mama that she was too ill to come home for the contest, that was a lie. They left her there to punish her for her supposed lack of effort. Then when she was just eleven years old, the sexual abuse began. I was appalled at her revelations. The first to latch onto her was a woman, someone who was tasked with making her take extra practice in the evenings. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the woman used her for her own pleasure, and poor Inge was too depressed to care or complain. “Who would I have complained to, Manfred? It was common knowledge that many of the girls, and even some of the boys, were being targeted like me”. She tried to smuggle out a letter home, outlining what was happening, but it was discovered, and she was cruelly punished for that.
Later on, she was ‘noticed’ by the deputy head coach, and he decided to give her ‘special lessons’ to improve her skills. But most of those supposed lessons took place in his room. At first, he had to put his hand over her mouth, to suppress her cries and screams. But as time went on, she went to him willingly rather than face any other punishments, like being passed around to some of the Team Officials. But at the start of last year, he had got her pregnant, and an abortion had been arranged in Moscow. When she got back from the hospital, she was taken off the team, and told she was now helping with the kit and routine jobs around the gym. She slept in the store room, and nobody spoke to her unless they had to.
Three weeks ago, she was called into the team office, told she was being sent home to Berlin, and had been officially ‘retired’ from the team.
Of course, as well as the rage I was feeling, I felt I had let my little sister down, even though I had known nothing about what had been happening. I resolved to expose those criminals who were supposed to be nurturing sporting talent, and taking care of our child athletes. My poor sister was only sixteen, and her life had already been ruined.
I got into work early, despite officially being on leave. When Captain Teller arrived, I asked to see him. My handwritten report was perused for a while, and then he looked across his desk at me. “Just tell me, Kraus, I don’t have time to wade through all this”. I quickly summarised everything Inge had told me, adding the names of the people most responsible. When I had finished, I sat up and looked him in the eye. “I want them arrested, and brought back to face trial, Captain. As soon as it can be arranged”.
The Captain gave me a weary look. “Think about this as if it was not your sister. Take a step back, and consider it as a criminal case. Where is the evidence? It is just your sister’s accusations against people who will undoubtedly have solid alibis. Witnesses? Will any of the other supposed victims come forward to corroborate her story? Will they make statements, or appear in court? And this abortion business. Do you think there will be any record of that happening? You are young, but sensible. You know that will be denied. And what if there was evidence of the hospital treatment? Who’s to say who the father of the child was? They will probably say that your sister was promiscuous, and may even manage to get some young men to come forward, admitting they had sex with her. But if you think that any of the officials or team coaches will ever be implicated, then I am sorry to say you are deluded”.
Before I could say a word, he carried on.
“And you must think about your career. Not only that, but your sister’s future too. If you go ahead with this official complaint, nothing will come of it, but both of your lives will be ruined. You will be filing papers in the basement for the rest of your working life, and she will be lucky to get a job cleaning the toilets in a hotel. Believe me, Kraus, you are going to have to put this down to experience, and you will both just have to let it go. It is the way of things, like it or not. Perhaps your mother should not have been so keen to send her daughter away to Russia at such a young age? Either way, all you will do is stir up a hornets’ nest that will come back to sting you both”.
I stopped myself shouting, but my reply was bitter. “So is there to be no justice in our new Germany, Captain? Is life for victims of crime to be no better than it was before the war? If so, then what are we doing here? What is the Stasi for, if not to ensure equal treatment for all, and the rooting out of undesirable elements? What am I to tell Inge when I go home?” I was close to tears, but fought them back.
Interlacing his fingers, he considered his reply.
“You tell her that you will look after her. We will get her a decent job, somewhere to live, and access to good medical care if she needs it. Your position will guarantee her safety here in Germany, and I swear that nobody will ever touch her again, you have my word. You are a good officer, with a bright future. Throw that away, and you throw away Inge’s future too. In a short time, all that will be just a bad memory, I promise you. Now trust me, and forget this report, okay?”
I waited too long to reply, obviously. He put my file into a drawer, and looked away as he spoke to me.
“You are dismissed. Make the most of your time off”.